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4. The I-Ching

The Superior Subject in Chinese Metaphysics

Contrary to common belief the I-Ching used by fortune tellers throughout the Chinese world, is not reliant on the book by the same name. Better understood as a system of prognostication, used since Neolithic times and thus the system predates the book of the same name by several thousand years, at least.

The earliest known extant evidence of such a system being used can be found in the so called Dragon Bones; the excavated plastron (Tortoise breastplate) and scapula (shoulder bone), fragments used in prehistoric divinatory practices. Those using the system, would inscribe their enquiry in the proto-type characters in use at that time and then burn them in the ashes of their fires until the scapula or plastron cracked, (exactly how this was done is still a mystery). It was the cracks that were then read and interpreted; just as the latter day and more easily cast trigrams can be drawn by the tossing of coins.

Remnants of these so called dragon bones used by the pre Han societies have been excavated for hundreds of years, possibly even thousands or years, for use in Chinese medicine. On a fascinating aside, later, with the development of bamboo as a medium for writing, slats of bamboo were sewn together to form some of the earliest known books which were then used to record some of the results of séances held within rich families to determine the welfare of ancestors in the nether world. It is from these records, the effects of Buddhist concepts of reincarnation can be traced across the development of religious Taoism.

By contrast the book known in the West as the I-Ching, was first part of the book known as the Gua Text, written by King Wen ca 1,100 BC who is known to have developed the sixty four trigrams which built on the original eight trigrams (Gua) invented by Fu Hsi, the prehistoric figure who is said to have lived approx 4,800 BCE – a good three thousand years prior to King Wen.


Fu Hsi’s Primal Ba Gua King Wen’s Cyclic Ba Gua

Thus the book is in fact, simply an anthology of the interpretations that King Wen; a feudal politician, composed on his own situation as a political prisoner at the time, and that approximately six hundred years later, Confucius, a philosopher, added to in the form of his commentaries, now often referred to as the Ten Wings. These commentaries added by Confucius, were on the earlier writings of his (claimed forebear), King Wen. However, neither was a fortune teller. So although their writings have served to spotlight attention on the academic aspects of their own focal points of interest; feudal politics and philosophy, as such, it is incomprehensible as a tool for fortune telling. This is a very common misconception.

Today, the I-Ching fortune telling system used across the Chinese world is one developed and added to throughout the last two millennia by various Masters but originally invented by a man called Keng Fong who lived in the Han Dynasty ca. 206 -220AD. He added the five elements and five aspects of life to the system, thus making it much easier to interpret and understand in an everyday setting. Keng Fong however, modestly attributed his system to King Wen and thus it was known as King Wen’s Way. Shao Yung, a very famous I-Ching master added more to the system during the Sung Dynasty ca. 960 – 1279 AD. An important contribution to the system for fortune telling, his method became know as the Plum Blossom Method and added a great deal of depth and sophistication to the structure of the I-Ching we have today.

By the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, one of its founders, Lieu Pak Wen wrote a new treatise called Golden Rules for I-Ching and it is these rules that are adhered to when using the I-Ching system for fortune telling today.